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Tag: sea (page 1 of 2)

Bikes, Sand Dunes, a Memorial, and the North Sea

You read me, so you know I love the Baltic. Now the important question is: Can you really love the North Sea when you love the Baltic? My hometown Hamburg is approximately the same distance from either sea. Most of my family and friends have a clear preference. It is either North or Baltic Sea. You can’t have ‘em both. My sister once phrased it as follows: “I like the North Sea better than the Baltic, because I like the Elbe River better than the Alster.” For someone from Hamburg, that makes immediate sense. Baltic Sea and Alster River are calm and domesticated, while Elbe River and North Sea are moody, wild and untamed. Now here’s the kind of girl I am: I like the Baltic Sea and the Elbe River. I’m annoying. I want it all.

North Sea, Zandvoort, NetherlandsGranted I hadn’t been to the North Sea in a very long time. You see, as opposed to the Baltic Sea, it is not in Central Eastern Europe which made it hard to integrate it into my travel schedule. But when Jan and I did our trip to Amsterdam, we agreed that we would absolutely have to rent bikes at some point, and where prettier to do that than at the coast. So on the second day in the big city we took the car out to Zandvoort, found rental bikes quickly (and very decently priced at 10€ per day per person) and off we went.

Zandvoort, NetherlandsThe town of Zandvoort is a beach resort, the likes of which I know from Germany (and from both teh North and the Baltic Sea) – too many buildings with questionable aesthetics line the coast and make the view from the beach inland rather grey. Looking out to see is grand though. And the good thing about this being a town with good infrastructure is that there are also decently tarmaced bike trails. They lead us out of the immediate town and into the National Park Zuid Kennemerland.

Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsThe soft up and down of grown-over sanddunes. The width of the clear blue sky sprinkled with solid-looking clouds. The fresh air and the smell of the sea. The wind in my hair as I speed up on the bike. There is no route planned, no final destination, nowhere to get to. Just moving along through the landscape that I find so beautiful in its simplicity. I don’t need mountains. I just need a wide sky.

The bike trail leads us away from the immediate coast line, inland. Trees line the freeway we drove down when we came into Zandvoort by car. Bike trails are on either side of it. Yes, Holland is bike country. There is a path heading away from the street, and out of curiosity, we take it, unsure where it will lead us. A few hundred yards into it, we come across a small bike park where we place the bikes and make our way along the path on foot. I look back as we leave our bikes, locked together, almost looking like their cuddling. So symbolic. It looks like I am definitely not travelling alone this time.

Bikes, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsWalking on sandy ground, but through beautiful wildlife, I find everything to be very green and leafy. Generally this reminds me a little of the bike tour I did on te Curonian Spit two years ago, but the forests lining the Baltic Sea there are coniferous. The deciduous plants around here give make the green so juicy, the smell so fresh, not as earthy and wooden as I am used to. The path we follow offers new pretty outlooks and views around every corner.

We find a small outdoors theatre that looks like it may once have been a memorial and goof around behind the stone stand. Not a soul around – although that is not true. There are animals, most notably the toad I almost stepped on walking down the path. It’s a very peaceful place. As we move on, we climb up some stairs, and finally come across this:

Memorial for Resistance Fighters in WW2, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsAlthough information is scarce, we realize quickly that it is some kind of burial ground for victims of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Later, research online will tell us that it is a memorial cemetery for resistance fighters who were shot in these exact dunes. There is almost no background given, and really almost none to be found on the internet either, which I regret. Walking around, Jan and I get into a discussion on war and peace, on the surpremely priviliged position our generation finds itself in in Western Europe, on Ukraine, on World War II, on our parents and grandparents. It is quite intense, and it leaves us more grateful for this day than we could have imagined.

Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsWe linger at the memorial for quite a while before we get back to the bikes and move on. Down into the forest. Out of it. Coming across meadows (although protected by fences, so we can’t throw ourselves onto them). Along the freeway. And finally, when it is almost time to go back into town to return the bikes, we find the sea again.

North Sea, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsThe North Sea. It is indeed much more untamed. It is also very blue and not as grey as I generally perceive the Baltic to be, but I’m not sure if that’s just its mood today. I find the North Sea to be quite moody. It just goes away every now and then, what is up with that! But today, I have to admit it: The North Sea is being really really good to me. The way the light glistens on its surface, and the sand on its beach is as shiny and as rich in different shades of colour as the water, and the sea grass on the dunes moves in the breeze – all of this touches me.

After we’ve returned the bikes – much too soon for both our tastes – we go back to the beach for dinner, and then stay to watch the sunset for as long as our shivering bodies allow us to. It was warm during the day, but once the sun is down it is quite chilly. The light show that nature has prepared for us is amazing though. Nothing can be said against a sea that allows you to see the sun set in it, slowly, every so slowly disappear into the depths of its water, reflection turning the waves into shimmering bodies of liquid light. Magic moments. And I think I am more of a North Sea fan than I knew before.

North Sea, Zandvoort, NetherlandsWhat do you say – North Sea or Baltic? Or is it another one entirely for you?

The Things I Love About Poland – Part II

I guess we all have countries which make us feel at home more than others. My parents, for example, love Greece, and they feel imbalanced when they don’t go every year. Most people get that. Greece has beaches, and islands, and ouzo, and lots of pretty old ruins. When I speak about Poland with that same affection, people just give me disbelieving looks. But guess what. Poland has beaches! And lakes! And vodka! And TONS of pretty old ruins – and pretty old buildings that are still whole, or have been restored beautifully.

Dlugi Targ, Gdansk, Poland

Długi Targ, the Long Market, in the center of my most beloved Gdańsk. Everything was in ruins here after World War II, but is shiny and sparkling today. I hear that Polands restorers are among the best in the world, and I believe that alright!

Last week I spoke about my love for the urban beauty of Polish cities, of the amazing sense of history in the country, of the hospitality I have met and the friends I have found, about the enchanting melody of that beautiful strange language, and about Polish music that has touched my heart. As if all this wasn’t enough, I have more reasons why my eyes light up when I talk about Poland. And I am not afraid to tell you about them.

6. The Landscapes

How could I speak about the cities and not equally enthusiastically mention the landscapes! From the Baltic Sea and the Mazurian Lakes in the North to the Tatra Mountains and the softer Plains in the South, the country really has it all.

Szczytno, Poland

Szczytno in the Mazurian Lake district enchants with a beautiful sunset.

Rozanka, Poland

Różanka in Lower Silesia offers pretty views and is very close to the Sudety mountains.

Poland even has the last European jungle in the Northeast which is high on my bucket list as I haven’t managed to see it yet. The wild bisons that live there, the żubry, have been namesake to both the beer żubr and the vodka żubrówka. Who wouldn’t need to see them now? One of the things that make Poland such an amazing country is definitely its diversity. From beach vacations by the sea to skiing in the mountains, you can find everything your travel heart desires here.

Sopot, Poland

Didn’t I say there were beaches? If it is this pretty in winter, just imagine how amazing the pretty spa town of Sopot must be in summer!

7. The Food – and the Vodka!

Ah, the food. I am not a huge foodie, but Polish food has me salivating. For one thing, don’t expect to ever go hungry in Poland. Generally, there is too much food for a person to handle, even if it is so delicious that you never want to stop eating. The Polish are big on soups and stews from żurek, a sour rye soup, to all kinds of vegetable soups (especially try barszcz, a beetroot based soup), to bigos, a heavy cabbage stew that will warm you on a snowed in winter’s night (because yes, it does get cold in Poland). I can never get enough of wątróbki, poultry livers served with apple and onions, and of the famous pierogi, dumplings that come filled with all sorts of different stuffings. If you can get someone to make them from scratch with you, you will never want to cook anything else at home anymore.

Making Pierogi in Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

When I lived in Bystrzyca Kłodzka in Lower Silesia, we made Pierogi in the group of international volunteers with our Polish teacher. And my, were they yummy!

Of course a good Polish meal is not complete without good Polish vodka. No other beverage have I been drunker on. But if you drink the good kind and don’t mix it with cheap kinds, you will not even be hungover. I’m fairly sure I don’t even have to talk much about it. If you go to Poland, one or two vodka incidents are without fail bound to happen. And even if you never liked vodka before, trust me and try it here. It is delicious and it certainly speeds up the process of making Polish friends.

Pear Vodka, Sopot, Poland

Doesn’t look like vodka? Ah, but it is! With pears! And it was beyond delicious. Never would I have gotten to taste it if my friend Karol hadn’t known the bar tender 🙂

8. The Literature

Adding to the Polish language having drawn me in with strange magnetic pull, I have also fallen hard for Polish literature. It was no love at first sight. For a long time I didn’t really have any favourite Polish authors or works. But the more I read, the more I wanted, and the better I knew the language, the more I loved what I was reading. Epic realist novels like Bolesław Prus‘ Lalka („The Doll“), masterpieces of absurdism by Witold Gombrowicz, amazing SciFi like Stanisław Lem’s Solaris and heartbreaking poetry by the nobel prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, and the great feminist novelists of today, like Olga Tokarczuk and my very favourite Joanna Bator – the list goes on and on.

 

I have found myself in too many books to actually list here, they have been eye-opening for me. To give you a taste, I translated one of my favourite Szymborska poems for you.

Na lotnisku

Biegną ku sobie z otwartymi ramionami,
wołają roześmiani: Nareszcie! Nareszcie!
Oboje w ciężkich zimowych ubraniach.
w grubych czapkach,
szalikach,
rękawiczkach,
butach,
ale już tylko dla nas.
Bo dla siebie – nadzy.

At the airport

They run towards each other with open arms
Calling out laughing: Finally! Finally!
Both in heavy winter clothing
In heavy hats,
scarves,
gloves,
boots,
But only to us.
Because to each other already – naked.

9. The Sense of Humour

Poles are extremely friendly and set great store by hospitality, as I mentioned last week. But not only that. Man, those people can make you laugh! I don’t know wether it is because they haven’t had much to laugh about in history, but generally Polish humour is dark, dry, politically incorrect and screamingly funny. To be quite frank it took me a while to really get into it, but I’m just telling you to not be shy, take that stick out of your butt that has been shoved up there in whatever country you are from, and go ahead and laugh.

Browarnia, Gdansk, Poland

„A bar tender is no camel, he needs to have his drink too!“ – on a jar for tips in a much beloved Gdansk based bar. Yeah, sometimes the humour isn’t dark and twisted, but just cute 🙂

I was warned before watching the Polish cult film Rejs, „The Cruise“, that I might not get why it is funny. I never stopped laughing when I saw it. I wish I had found a subtitled version of this scene which is my absolute favourite. I can but hope that the body language of the cast alone will at least make you smile. The dialogue is hilarious.

10. The Swearwords

Closing on a high note here. Obviously there is one specific part of language, which in general I already discussed, that deserves extra attention. Almost any language beats German when it comes to swearing, we only have boring words that don’t do the somewhat violent melody of our language any justice. But cursing in Polish is pure poetry. It is so emphatic and creative. I know you expect better of me, the academic, but I dare you to have a Pole teach you how to curse and your life will never be the same. There are actual linguistic studies on the fact that German cursing is usually related to fecies (shit) while Slavic cursing is related to sex (fuck). There is nothing as relieving as uttering a heartfelt kurwa jebana mać (a very emphatic „fuck!“, but literally something like „damn fucked bitch“). And the most brilliant thing is: They use swear words for affirmation and celebration as well – as in zajebiście, which means „awesome“, but literally „fucked“.

Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

I called the little town of Bystrzyca Kłodzka my home for 6 months. There was nothing spectacular about it. But it is Poland. Therefore, it is home.

Having said all of this, I feel once more ever so grateful for my blog. You don’t understand how even thinking about all these things made me so happy. I think back on all the places I have seen in Poland, and all the ones I am yet to discover. There is no other country except for Germany that I know so much about, and yet I don’t know nearly enough. I want to see more, know more, understand better.

You know how when you travel and get cash from the ATM in a foreign country, you try to calculate so you won’t get too much as to not be stuck with foreign currency at the end of your trip? In Poland I never do that. I always take out any decent amount I feel like taking out. If I have Zloty left over at the end of my stay, I will just spend them the next time around. It is never far away.

Which country makes you feel at home? Why do you love it so much, and do people understand your love for it?

Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey

Today, I thought about which bridge I might write about in my Sunday post for quite a while, and digging through my archive I didn’t really come across anything. That is partially due to the fact that ever since I started using my new camera (so much love for my Sony NEX 3n!!), my old photos look crappy. But then I came across this. And I cannot even believe I haven’t used it yet when it makes my heart sing songs that no earthly words can possibly describe.

Galata Bridge, Istanbul, TurkeyThis is Galata Bridge, in Turkish: Galata Köprüsü, in Istanbul. This is the bridge that connects the two sides of the Haliç, the Golden Horn, connecting the districts of Karaköy and Eminönü. Tourists often get confused standing on one side of the bridge thinking that on the other side they see Asia. This is not the case – the Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosphorus, stretching into Europe, and the bridge connects two European parts of the city.

Being on this Bridge, the Bridge of the Golden Horn, is very hard for me to put into words. I don’t know what it is about Istanbul that caught my heart so forcefully. The fishermen that cast their lines from behind the bridge’s bannisters. The smell of salt water. The sound of waves, ships, seagulls, and of so many people all around you.

The first day I ever spent in Istanbul, I got there early in the morning on a night bus and, before checking in with my couchsurfing host, had breakfast in one of the touristy restaurants under the bridge. It was simple, fresh, overpriced, but delicious. And I felt my heartbeat accustom to the city’s pulse. It didn’t take long until it was in sync. And when I returned to the city, it was the same feeling right away. Istanbul has placed a kiss on my soul, and I have never been the same person ever since.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Sopot on a Winter Day

Sopot. I first got to know it by its German name Zoppot which sounds so much harsher and less accessible than the soft-sounding, sinuous Polish equivalent. Thinking about the place has come to evoke pictures in my mind of when it was a German spa town and people would come here to enjoy their summer retreat, or as the German old-fashioned expression goes: Sommerfrische, a word I love and that translates to summer freshness. I blame that on the beautiful books I have read that are set here and that paint pictures of a distant past that are coloured in the soft tones of patina.

Baltic, Sopot, PolandI have never been to Sopot on a hot summer’s day when the pier costs an entrance fee and the beach must be overcrowded with tourists. My personal associations with the town are not ones of summer freshness. I have, however, been here in the winter. So far most of my visits were accompanied not only by great cold, but also by grey skies. I always liked it anyway because I love the Baltic in all its shades of grey. But the last walk I took through Sopot on this crisp winter day was special. And I will try and share some of my impressions with you.

I walk around the last house that seperates me from the open view ontop the sea, and as I pass the corner, my heart jumps, as it does when I see the Baltic – my favourite sea.

Baltic, Sopot, PolandWhen I finally set foot onto the beach, I can hardly see anything because I am blinded by bright sunlight, mirrored by the snow that has covered the sand in a pocketed white blanket. Wind is making my eyes tear up, and the cold is crawling into my sleeves as I take off the glove and reach for my camera.

I make my way toward the Sopot pier, the longest wooden pier in Europe with its old fashioned ambience. It invites for strolling, dandering, sauntering. If only it wasn’t around -16 degrees today.

Pier, Sopot, PolandLooking North toward Gdynia, the water is smooth as glass and reflects every soaring seagull, every ray of sunlight. To the South, toward Gdansk, the is greyer and less calm. The thick wooden stilts the carry the pier are entirely frozen over with a dense icy coat that produces funny looking outgrowth. They look like mammoth legs.

Pier, Sopot, PolandThe day is blue and white. I cannot even fathom what it could be like in the summer. The idea of green doesn’t seem to fit. This place belongs in the clear and transparent colours of winter. Even the clouds play along with it. Big and white, with silver-grey linings, they collect just above the horizon as though they wanted to cushion the bright blue skies. Looking left and right, the Baltic has frozen over, and a thick layer of snow grazes the ice. Poeple are walking on it.

Snowed in Baltic, Sopot, Poland Snowed in Baltic, Sopot, PolandIt looks a little bit like the froth that waves make. In the original fairytale of the Little Mermaid, when mermaids die, they lose their soul and become froth on the sea. Such a melancholy thought. The little mermaid herself gains immortality for her undying love and joins the spirits of the air. I am sure she is around somewhere.

Walking along the beach it looks surreal how at times it is the sand covering drifts of snow, then again it is snow that overcasts the sandy beach. Different animal tracks can be seen on the untouched surfaces, mainly birds‘. The bare branches are dark and dead against the intense winter colours, but there is life all around, if only it doesn’t always show itself openly.

Beach, Sopot, Poland Beach, Sopot, PolandWhen dusk is setting, the light changes. The colours grow warmer, but the temperature goes colder yet again. Little flakes of ice are in my scarf just below my mouth – from breathing. The light fades, but the beauty is increasing. I find an abandonded boat on the beach. The sight of it sets free all the longing, all the craving, all the wanderlust I carry in my heart year round.

Beach, Sopot, PolandOnce more, I walk down the pier. Because I can. And because as heartfelt absolutely certain as I am that I am going to come back, as much does it pain me to say good bye. Every time. I walk the pier to the very end. On the ice cover in the marina, there is slight, weird movement. I only see it at second glance: The seagulls. They have cuddled up in a huge swarm and sit on the ice in a huge crowd, warming one another. It looks beautiful, a symbol of „united we stand“, of „together we are strong“.

Seagulls, Sopot, PolandThen, something seems to have disturbed them in their corner as suddenly they rise as one into the air. So many individual animals, yet moving in one swift movement, together, forming one body, and setting again as a breathing living cover onto the ice, onto the sea.

Seagulls, Sopot, Poland If this isn’t all too symbolic of my yearning for travel, my craving for flying and still having a home to come back to, of my wish to be myself in all my individuality and still have attachments to others, I don’t know what would be.

A Walk Along the Atlantic

Before our trip to Porto, Julia and I make one wish each: She wants to ride the tram, and I want to see the Atlantic Ocean. We are thrilled to find out that you can perfectly combine the two and take the little vintage tram out to the shore of the ocean. During the ride a young gay couple sits across from us. Love radiates from them, they give off the impression that either they haven’t been dating long or they don’t see each other very often. The are so affectionate with each other, and whenever my look grazes theirs, they smile wide smiles at me. It is beautiful to be in the presence of love.

From the tram stop we have to walk along the mouth of River Douro for a bit before we reach the open water. Looking back to Porto, Arrábida Bridge shows its white arc in the distance.

Arrabida Bridge, Porto, Portugal

Mouth of River Douro and Arrábida Bridge in the distance

There is a small alley of palm trees, and if it wasn’t autmnally chilly, this would feel like the Carribean (which I am fairly sure it does in summer!). We shoot a couple of pictures of each other. I have to say I am quite enjoying this – one of the perks of not travelling solo is that I actually get to be in pictures that are not selfies and show some of the scenery around.

Mariella at the mouth of River Douro, Porto, Portugal

I’m trying to play the siren here, can you tell?

Only a short walk later we get to the pier which we walk along with lots of other weekend strollers. A lot of the tourists here speak Spanish, and all of a sudden that language that I have always found beautiful and passionate sounds harsh and loud in comparison to Portuguese. There are wave-breakers, and if you wait long enough, the water will crush upon them, breaking the wave quite literally into an explosion of white froth.

Wave-breakers, Porto, Portugal

That is froth if ever I saw any!

What is even more amazing is that once the white, manifest-looking water retracts, the most intense rainbows are on display in front of the view of the shoreline.

Rainbow, Porto, Portugal

I wish I would have pressed the button a tad sooner, I would have captured both the froth AND the rainbow!

I could stand and watch the beauty of this forever, the infinite shapes that come up with the water, the amazing sounds of the mighty waves crushing onto the rocks and spraying up in spume. Julia and I sit down in the sun across from the water spectacle. But soon our eyes start wandering toward the horizon, and the eternal width of the ocean. I have seen the Atlantic, but only from the other side, from Florida, when I was 16. It is weird that back then I was looking in the direction of where I am now, while now I am looking in the direction of where I was then. Did I try and look to the future, to my 29 year old self back then, and am I looking back to find 16 year old me today?

Atlantic Ocean, Porto, Portugal

Julia and I sit there for quite a long time before we get moving. It is surprisingly warm by the water, almost no wind, and the sun is shining almost hotly down on us. We go and look for a beachside coffee place, and after having had coffee, we are still warm enough to feel in the mood for some Sangria.

Sangria, Porto, Portugal

It might not be as authentic as Port wine (which we had as well, don’t worry) – but it sure looks pretty!!

As it goes in this city, as soon as the sun starts to go down, the cold comes promptly, abruptly. We need to get moving, and we start to make our way back towards the river – not without having caught a gorgeous view of the sunset from our coffee place. It is impossible to tell from the pictures, but the clouds have silver linings. I explain to Julia about that saying, and I become aware that I have never seen it illustrated in the sky so clearly as today. I feel like this might have some hidden significance to me. Yes, the clouds that darken my life from time to time, they have their silver linings too.

Sunset, Porto, Portugal

Sunset with silver lined clouds

We walk past the tram stop, we have decided to walk back into town. Every now and then we turn around to face the sunset, and the sky turning that amazing orange, red and lilac colour. The black sillhouettes of boats look so romantic against the sky in all its colourful glory. I think I am going to really like this town.

Sunset with boats, Porto, Portugal

Boat silhouettes and colour explosions

Have you ever seen the Atlantic Ocean? Do you like it best or is another ocean your favourite? 

A Mystical Place – Kap Arkona on Rügen

Kap Arkona. An intriguing name for an intriguing place.

Sighting Tower, Kap Arkona, Rügen, GermanyIt is a rather grey and rainy day as we get in our rental car and drive to Putgarten, where we have to pay the whopping 4€ for parking and then start walking. We walk through the small village of Putgarten with its clean tidy houses and cobble stone streets.

Putgarten, Rügen, GermanyAndrew stops for recording songs every now and again. He will later use them for sampled pieces of electronic music. It makes me more aware of the soundscape that surrounds us. The little shuttle’s motoric roar on the pavement. The clip clop of horse shoes as a carriage passes us by. Wind, always wind swishing across the wide open landscape and the already barren fields. The light houses that we have seen light up from our bedroom window in Lohme at night and the sighting tower are visible early on over the width of the countryside.

Lighthouses, Kap Arkona, Rügen, GermanyWe turn left at the fork in the end of the path toward the light houses first. The smaller one is made from red brick (my heart beats faster…) and designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, an architect responsible for most of the Prussian neo-classical architecture in Berlin’s city centre. It is almost 200 years old. Its taller brother is 100 years old and the one that we have seen light up. They look like Laurel and Hardy.

Lighthouses, Kap Arkona, Rügen, GermanyThe lighthouses are quite iconic, but funnily enough, what gets to me more is the view of the tiny building across from them, just by the entrance to one of the two military bunkers. It is simpler and less considerable, yet the white and red colours against the grey sky glow and glisten in my eyes.

Kap Arkona, Rügen, GermanyThe two bunkers were mainly used by the military of the socialist German Democratic Republic, although one was built for the Nazi Wehrmacht. They house exhibitions today. Military history is not unusual up here, I have been to bunkers on the neighbouring island of Usedom, too. Andrew seems fascinated. I have never given it too much thought. Maybe because it makes me slightly uncomfortable.

Military Bunker, Kap Arkona, Rügen, GermanyWe keep following the path that leads us to a small tree-lined alley. To the side there is a small stamped out trail in the grass. I suggest we go down there, through the bushes wet with raindrops. Just a few steps into the thicket and we get to the top of the massive cliff, to the overgrown ledge barely secured by a wooden bannister. The views of the Baltic from here may be the most spectacular we have had all weekend. The sun is breaking carefully through the thick grey clouds, the sea is howling under us, golden marram grass and even the bright orange fruits of the sea buckthorn are contrasting the reserved dark colours of sea and sky.

Kap Arkona, Rügen, GermanyAndrew is recording sounds again, but all of a sudden he points behind me and tells me quietly to look – there is a deer, staring curiously at us, quite close and not really as shy as it should be. I carefully try to take out my camera and photograph it, but as it goes, the second I press the button, it decides to hide away into the thicket and I only catch its rear. As much as it has felt like we were the only two people in the world up here, I am enjoying the fact that we had a quick moment of company of an inhabitant of this magical and slightly mysterious place.

Kap Arkona, Rügen, GermanyIn one of the small souvenir shops, I go to look at the jewellery. The rings are  tied to adder stones, or as they are called in German: Hühnergötter, chicken gods, – small rocks that have natural holes in them. They are found on Rügen often, and according to ancient Slavic pagan beliefs, they protect from the Kikimora, a poltergeist from Slavic mythology who killed or harmed poultry and eggs. Today most people use them for decor, but they still remind of the Slavic history of the region – because the earliest settlements in what today is Northeastern Germany were not Germanic, but Slavic. I pick a ring with an amber stone. The saleswoman unties it from its adder stone and I start wearing it right away. It has intricate silver ornaments holding the tear-shaped amber. A mystical, a nostalgic piece of jewellery. It will give me bittersweet memories of this weekend and of this place that I love so much whenever I wear it.

Kap Arkona, Rügen, Germany

Romantic Humility – Rügen’s Chalk Cliffs

There is a view of the Baltic Sea from the bedroom window. I wake up early and witness the sky growing slowly lighter and lighter. Only last night after our arrival, we took a walk down to the beach and sat in the fading light of the sunset, listening to the eternal sounds of waves crushing upon the rocks. Not violently or angrily though. The sound was just steady, calm, inviting even – inviting thoughts, feelings and musings to surface from the innermost depths of our beings.

Rügen, GermanyWe didn’t talk much. Now in the early morning haze of an in-between phase at the verge of sleep and wake, the misty morning appearing outside the window and Kap Arkona shining through dimly in the distance, this feeling of peace is still with me. And at the same time I am excited for the adventures of the day.

Rügen, GermanyWe want to walk from Lohme, the small village in Rügen’s Jasmund National Park, along the coast to the famous chalk cliff called Königsstuhl, King’s Chair. Anyone who likes art history and knows about romanticist painting may have heard of Caspar David Friedrich, a German painter from the nearby mainland town Greifswald (a place I truly love). The chalk cliffs in this area were among his most appreciated motives.

Rügen, GermanyHe painted them in beautiful romantic fashion, expressing the depth of human feeling, longing and the almost desperate will to live all facets of life, be they good or bad. At least this is what I see in his paintings – and I will be reminded of this romantic emotional overload walking in the beautiful coastal nature of the island of Rügen today.

Rügen, GermanyWe start out by the beach, but soon we are not sure how to follow the path, because there isn’t really one. Because of that, we make our way up through the forest to the upper part of the hiking trail. It is somewhat exhausting to ascend from the beach, but walking on the soft forest ground is less hard on the feet than walking on the pebbled beach was.

Rügen, GermanyThe forest is thick and green in its last bit of summer gear. Rays of sunshine fall through the tree crowns onto the mossy cover on the ground, like spot lights trying to point to something exciting. But there is just silence and, far beneath us, the growling of the sea.

Rügen, GermanyEvery now and then the forest will thin out toward the steep edge of the cliff, and beautiful views will open up in front of us. Andrew thinks that the Baltic seems like a finite sea, not as endless as others. He says he finds himself aware of the fact that there is land on the other side and half expects to see it somewhere in the distance. I remember that I felt the same way at the Black Sea, and that this was one of the reasons that I liked the Bulgarian coast – because it reminded me a bit of the Baltic.

Rügen, GermanyIn this moment, I don’t think past the horizon, though. I know that everything comes to an end, even the largest ocean, even the longest hour. But this moment is eternal to me.

At the Königsstuhl, we just take a quick glance at the impressive cliff with its peculiar shape.

Königsstuhl, Rügen, GermanyThen we descend to the beach over 412 steps. Downward this might be okay, even though signs warn us everywhere that it will be a good work-out. Being an asthmatic, I am glad I don’t have to do it back up. We now walk all the way back to Lohme down at the beach.

Rügen, Germany

This photo is courtesy of Andrew – that is me wandering off in the distance.

The sounds of pebbles under our feet. The occasional scream of a seagull, maybe. The wind. The waves. The colours of the pebbles are white, grey, black and occasionally red. The sea is blue and grey. So is the sky. The cliffs are bright white. Occasionally there is a fallen tree, dead. Sometimes a bit of green emerges. I feel thrown back to the very basics of my being. Unobtrusive colours and sounds that make up for lack of excitement in intensity. Everything feels huge. Loud and vast and wide.

Rügen, Germany

My stone, Rügen, Germany

My stone

There is one tree trunk packed with stones and pebbles that people must have left there as though it were a tombstone on a Jewish cemetery. Andrew picks up a medium sized rock, I choose a smaller pebble, and we place them in the midst of the collection. It looks like a beautiful work of art. I feel great at the thought that we have left our tiny man made sign in this place.

 

Andrew's stone, Rügen, Germany

Andrew’s stone

Once again, I think of Caspar David Friedrich. His pictures show humans in the face of the vastness of the world, they teach us humility. I was right in anticipating the feeling of his art to come into my heart. I felt small and humble in the face of nature’s greatness today. For a great intro to the most famous painting of the chalk cliffs, check this youtube video.

 

Baltic Love – Rügen in Light and Shadow

My love for the Baltic Sea is endless. My eyes grow wide and dreamy when I talk about it, and I have an infinite supply of tales to tell about different cities, especially the hanseatic ones, along the shores of this most beautiful of seas. When Andrew and I made for two days on Germany’s biggest island Rügen, I was excited like a four-year-old at Christmas. I will soon tell you about our hikes from the little village of Lohme, where we stayed, along the coast with its famous chalk cliffs. But today all I want to share with you is my passion for the Baltic Sea in pictures.

National Park Jasmund, Rügen, GermanyMy sister once said she prefered the North Sea, and when I asked her why, she said: „Because I like the Elbe River better than the Alster.“ To someone from Hamburg that makes immediate sense. The Elbe and the North Sea are less domesticated, more untamed, wilder. The Alster and the Baltic are calm and reliable – some may say boring. I cannot for the life of me agree with the last point. I have seen the Baltic shimmer in all different shades of blue and green and grey, I have seen it crushing towering waves onto the sand and lie still like a mirror. It has never once bored me.

Kap Arkona, Rügen, Germany One of the things I love is that the Baltic can change colour from grey to blue and back in a matter of minutes. Also I am convinced that the sky is of a more intense blue than elsewhere (if it is blue that is, and not overcast). I feel like the Mediterranean is always blue. Granted, a beautiful blue. But the colour range of the Baltic just seems richer, and sometimes a grey sea is just what I need. Grey and angry.

Baltic Sea, Rügen, Germany

Baltic Sea, Rügen, GermanyImages like this make me feel free. Where might that boat be going? Is it maybe without aim and just leasurely, idly swimming by? How symbolic of life is a boat on a sea – trying to fight through the storms it might encounter and trying to hold on to the peaceful sunny days?

Forest, Rügen, GermanyThe Baltic Sea is also so different from the Mediterranean or the Black Sea with their heat and palms and sandy beaches. Granted, you can have wonderful beach vacations by the Baltic, but generally the climate is of course rougher, harsher. I may like the Baltic better when there’s a strong wind and I’m wearing hiking boots and a rain jacket than when I’m wearing a bikini. The climate also grants that you have the most wonderful of combinations – forests right by the sea. When I walk that line between the rich green leafy thicket and the wide openness of the sea, I don’t need a Mediterranean beach.

Swans, Rügen, GermanyI am also fascinated by the swans at the Baltic. Seagulls, yes, but swans? When we went to Rügen now, I was almost surprised that they were there. I had only ever before in the Baltic seen them in Poland. But there were loads of them, and watching them dive into the tiny waves for food or sliding by majestically on the water was beautiful. In this picture, I especially like the two to the right. They look like a long married couple.

National Park Jasmund, Rügen, GermanyWhen the sun sets at the Baltic, and the sky is exploding in colours that you don’t get to see even in the most beautiful sunsets in the city, light fades, and the sounds of the waves and the wind become more dominant than what is visible to the eye, I get calm and relaxed and I can forget my busy life for a little while. There is peace.

Do you have a favourite sea? Have you been to Germany’s biggest island Rügen? Would you like to go?

Rügenbrücke, Stralsund / Rügen, Germany

The biggest island in Germany isn’t necessarily the most famous one. It is called Rügen and is in the Baltic Sea. And it is connected to the mainland city Stralsund by a stunning bridge, the Rügenbrücke.

When I was at college in the area, you could reach the island only by a tiny bridge, the Rügendamm, that always had horrible traffic jams on it. My sister once took ten hours to get off of the island in the car. Since 2007 the modern Rügenbrücke offers the much more comfortable way to cross the strait between the mainland and the island, the Strelasund.

When we went to Rügen this weekend, I took a picture on the way there in beautiful early autumn weather. The aesthetics of the modern bridge stand strongly against the bright sky with it’s Baltic blue colour, and I can’t wait to be by the beach of the sea I might love most of all of them.

Rügenbrücke, Stralsund / Rügen, GermanyOn the way back, Andrew took another picture of the same bridge in much more dramatic weather conditions. The steel towers almost disappear into the foggy clouds, and rain is starting to drum on the windshield. I can hardly believe that it is the same place – but in two different directions. It puts a whole new perspective on the idea of, well, perspective itself.

Rügenbrücke, Strasund / Rügen, GermanyIf you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Everybody’s Darlings – and Why I Don’t Usually Like Them

I will now talk about places I have travelled to and did not actually like that much. This is something that doesn’t often happen on travel blogs, as Andrew recently pointed out to me. His words were something like: „Everybody always writes about places they like. No one ever says: ‚Don’t go there, it was horrible!‘ That can’t possibly be true.“ He’s got a point. Now I won’t tell you not to go anywhere, because everyone has to decide for themselves. But when you hear which places I do not like, you won’t believe me anyway.

There are these places in Europe everyone loves. When you mention them on a twitter chat, or at a hostel, or on your facebook page, or just randomly over dinner with travel-loving friends, the reaction will always be along the lines of: „Aaaah, I LOVED [insert place here]. It is so lovely in [insert season here]. I could totally live there, especially in [insert trendy neighbourhood in said city]. There is a place on [insert famous street here] that serves THE best [insert local food here].“

I have a confession to make: These places are usually the ones I am not so keen on.

Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin, Germany

Berlin sure is everybody’s darling, eh? I’m not debating this one.

Of course there is exceptions. After all, the city I live in, Berlin, tends to be in the list of said places. So do a couple of places that I have never been to, such as Paris, Barcelona, or Venice. While I do want to see these places at some point in my life, I am not all too fussed about them right now. I am sure they will be nice and all, but I’m just not feeling a great passionate urge to see them very soon. Because in the past, Everybody’s Darlings have not necessarily worked for me.

This especially goes for the three I am about to discuss now. I can already hear everyone screaming „Sacrilege!“ and „Impossible!“ and „How could she!“ Ah well. Please disabuse me of my notions in the comments. Here go the places in Europe that everyone seems to love except for me.

1. Prague, Czech Republic

There, I said it. I am not a huge fan of Prague. As is usually the case with things like these, I suppose the circumstances weren’t entirely in my favour. I went there as a weekend trip from my voluntary service in Poland with five other international volunteers. I was heartbroken at the time for several reasons and while I liked the group, I didn’t truly connect with the others as much as they did with each other, and they set much focus on the consumption of loads of beer while I wanted to see the city. Also the weather was quite chilly and grey that March of 2007.

Prague Astronomical Clock, Prague, Czech Republic

People dream of seeing the Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. I was semi-impressed.

While all that made it difficult to enjoy being in the moment, I found the famous Old Town Square to be ridiculously overcrowded and the famous clock to fall short of my expectations. I also noticed I should have done more research – relying on my travel buddies had not been a good plan because they basically just wanted to go from beer to beer. Generally for some reason I couldn’t hear the music in my heart that I had expected to.

I think Prague was overladen with expectations from my side that it could not live up to. Because of that, this one is probably at least partially my fault. I am willing to give Prague another chance. It’s just not very high up my list right now.

Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Castle is an admired and cherished place for many travellers.

2. Dubrovnik, Croatia

For most travellers who have been to Croatia, Dubrovnik has been one of their highlights. For me it was different. The first couple of times I went to Croatia, I didn’t even make it down there. I had planned on seeing it on my great trip through the Balkans and was always sidetracked by other places that struck me as more interesting – Bosnia, Montenegro, or even just the smaller places along the Dalmatian coast. I finally went to Dubrovnik on my way to the island of Korcula and stayed there for three days in late August 2011.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

You think this is gorgeous? So do most people.

Bad circumstances to add to my dislike in this case: It was unbearbly hot. I had been travelling for 10 days and hadn’t found back into the rhythm of it, I probably should have started out with just some chill-time. And then I got ill and spend a considerable portion of my stay there between my hostel bed and the bathroom.

But all these things aside, there were many things about Dubrovnik that just weren’t down my alley. For one thing, I found it ridiculously overpriced by comparison to what else I knew of Croatia, and have been around that country rather much. I also found the street vendors to be particularly aggressive. There was a moment of peace when I stood in the market and smelled the lavender that people were selling. At once I was pressed from three men in English and Italian to buy some – and the moment was over. No one spoke Croatian, and in general I didn’t see why people were so much more taken with the small alleyways and red roof tops here than in any other Dalmatian town, like Makarska for example – I had visited that in the midst of high season and totally crowded, but I still liked it loads better than Dubrovnik. I think Dubrovnik doesn’t live up to the beauty other Croatian towns have to offer. It is overrated.

Alleyway, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cute alleyways in Dubrovnik – but hey, not any better or worse than those in Sibenik, Makarska, or Zadar.

3. Vienna, Austria

The last one on my list of only-okay travel destinations everyone else loves is the Austrian capital. I have been there twice each for a couple of days and while I suspect that if I hung out around more locals, I could have seen a different side of it, it all comes down to this: Vienna is too pristine for me.

Karlskirche, Vienna, Austria

Karlskirche is beautiful, sure – but I just feel it could be anywhere.

There are not even really any bad circumstances to this phenomenon – no connected bad memories of an emotional kind, no sickness, no weather issues. Vienna just doesn’t speak to me. It has this specific kind of beautiful that seems to me like the majority of the girls on Germany’s Next Top Model. Pretty on the outside, hollow on the inside. No edge, no character. Just this very neat, preppy, clean appearance. I never quite got behind it.

Now what probably didn’t help was that I had fallen in love with Krakow before I met Vienna. Now that Polish little sister of Vienna has the same Austro-Hungarian architecture and coffee house culture, the same turn-of-the-century morbidity and grand artistic tradition – but it is just ever so slightly more run down and truly old. I find it to be authentic. In Vienna I always feel like I wasn’t pretty enough. In Krakow I can be myself, out of style or out of fashion, and still love the city’s beauty and originality. Vienna is like a living room out of a magazine – pretty to look at, but who wants to live in the constant fear of spilling red wine on the white couch cushions. Against Krakow, it was bound to lose in my book.

Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn in Vienna – a fairytale kind of palace. I find it too clean.

I think all of this just proves how much about travel and discovery is about the chemistry between the traveller and the place, and how very much it is like falling in love. Some places – as some men – are perfect. But they’re just not for you.

What do you think? Do you disagree with me on my picks? Are there any places everyone loves that you don’t see anything in at all?

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